‘I want my people at the Sydney Opera House’: Mary Coustas ahead of one-woman comedy show

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After two years of covid hiatus award winning comedian, actress, writer and creator of the iconic 90s character Effie, Mary Coustas, will for the first time in her career take the Opera House’s Playhouse in May to premiere her intimate one-woman-show, This Is Personal.

But what is personal in a world that experiences this level of speed and connection?

“Everything is personal,” Mary Coustas tells The Greek Herald, promising the audience a candid, unplugged performance that combines the colourful tapestry of her migrant upbringing in Melbourne’s suburbs and her recent experience of motherhood. 

“When I was growing up, I used to think that racism, is not personal. It happens to lots of people that look like me, but it didn’t stop it from happening to me. And it felt very personal at the time,” says Mary.

“And you try to be bigger than that although you continuously not fit in with what is considered the norm,” she says. “I didn’t see faces that looked like mine in the media or in the public sphere.”

Neither racism nor the fear of the unknown stopped the then young migrant from entering the entertainment industry with optimism and with the goal to show that being a strong female and comfortable in your own skin is not a hinderance but an advantage.

“You need to build strength from the inside out and my Greek grandmothers were my role models,” she says. “Being strong is not a threat but a box you have to tick before any other.”

It was Mary’s younger self who created the suit of armour we’ve come to know as “Effie” and have loved for over three decades. 

I ask her if it’s tempting to put her theatrical character aside to perform this new show but Mary says “Effie is never too far away.”

“I am at my most fearless when I’m performing her [Effie]. Literally nothing worries me. It’s like time stands still,” she says.

“I talk to the audience and it’s electrifying. I can walk into parliament house and get up as Effie and perform for whoever the leader is at the time and feel like I have every right to be there and that I’m representing working class ethnic women, or just people that are like me, the everyday person. Effie represents that,” she says.

“But I felt like it’s time to sort of go commando without the comfort and security of Effie. And to really strip myself back away from the bells and whistles.”

Laced with Mary Coustas’ comedic flair, This Is Personal, under the direction of Blazey Best, is a kaleidoscopic exploration of love, loss, laughter, fear and the characters that shaped the comedian’s life.

“This is Personal gives me the freedom to discuss the themes we all face in this life – race, gender, belonging, and freedom of expression. Now, I feel I am ready to tackle these issues of the human condition as Mary. To step away from the puppet and expose the puppeteer,” she says.

“It is a funny show because I have to bring comedy even to the most tragic of things. That’s just how my mind works.” 

Mary Coustas believes that sharing pain through laughter is “a much more intravenous way of dealing with life stuff.”

And I can’t disagree with her. 

“I think people walk away from all of my shows -whether it’s an Effie show or not- standing a little taller and feeling a bit better about themselves.”

“I want my people, my audience, to come to the Opera House. This show is not just for the white middle class,” she says.

“Whether they are from the suburbs, from different cultures, from different sexual inclinations I invite them to the Opera House, to look at that Harbour Bridge, marvel how beautiful this place is and to feel like they belong.”

*This Is Personal, will premiere in the Opera House’s Playhouse from 25 – 29 May 2022. The performance on 28 May at 7.30pm will be livestreamed to audiences around the world via the Opera House’s online streaming platform, Stream

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